Russia said Wednesday that everyone on board a military transport plane – allegedly carrying dozens of captured Ukrainian soldiers – had died after the aircraft crashed near the border with Ukraine. Ukraine responded by saying it had no “reliable information” on who was on board the plane and that its army would continue to target Russia’s military in the Belgorod region.
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Russia has accused Ukrainian forces of shooting down the military transport plane, killing all 74 people aboard, allegedly including 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war being swapped.
“Everyone on board died,” the Belgorod regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said on social media.
Unverified videos on social media showed a large plane, purportedly in the Belgorod region, falling from the sky on its side before crashing in a fireball.
“At around 11 am Moscow time (0800 GMT), an IL-76 aircraft crashed in the Belgorod region during a routine flight,” Moscow’s defence ministry told Russian news agencies.
“On board were 65 captured Ukrainian army servicemen being transported to the Belgorod region for exchange, six crew members and three escorts,” it said.
Neither AFP, AP nor FRANCE 24 were able to verify Russia’s claims on who was aboard or what brought the plane down.
FRANCE 24’s Gulliver Cragg reports from Kyiv
Later Wednesday, Ukraine’s intelligence agency said it had no “reliable information” on who was on board the plane.
“A prisoner exchange was supposed to take place today, but it did not take place. According to the Russian side, this was due to the downing of a Russian Il-76 aircraft, which was allegedly transporting our prisoners. We currently do not have reliable or comprehensive information on who was on board the plane or in what number,” Ukraine’s main intelligence directorate said in a statement.
The Ukrainian army also issued a statement saying it would “continue to take measures to destroy delivery vehicles and control airspace to eliminate the terrorist threat, including in the Belgorod-Kharkiv direction”. The statement contained no mention of the crash, however.
The agency also said Moscow had not asked Kyiv to ensure air space security around the Belgorod area on Wednesday – something it has done ahead of previous swaps.
In a post on Telegram, it said Russia’s accusations that Kyiv shot down the plane could be “a planned action to destabilise the situation in Ukraine and weaken international support for our state”.
The crash occurred in the Korochansky district, northeast of the region’s capital, regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Telegram.
“Now an investigation team and emergency services are working on the site. I have changed my working schedule and travelled to the district,” Gladkov said.
Gladkov had earlier announced a missile alert over the region, but it was not clear if the two events were connected.
⚡️An Ilyushin Il-76 military plane reportedly crashed in the #Belgorod region of Russia, as reported by Russian Telegram channels.
There is no official information about the incident yet. pic.twitter.com/N2IdHdGfQZ
— KyivPost (@KyivPost) January 24, 2024
In Kyiv, local media initially cited sources in the Ukrainian military as saying that its army downed the plane, and that it was transporting missiles.
But that claim was later retracted.
The issue of prisoners of war is sensitive in both countries.
In 2022, Russia and Ukraine accused each other of carrying out deadly bombardments on a jail holding dozens of captured Ukrainian servicemen in Kremlin-controlled Olenivka, in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
Both Moscow and Kyiv blamed each other for the incident, which President Volodymyr Zelensky called a “Russian war crime”.
Moscow and Kyiv have also recently accused each other of a sharp escalation in attacks on civilian areas over the past two months.
Russian strikes wounded nine people in the eastern Ukrainian region of Kharkiv, the region’s governor said Wednesday.
Regional governor Oleg Sinegubov said Moscow’s forces had fired S-300 surface-to-air missiles at the city, which lies next to Ukraine’s border with Russia.
Russian forces had aimed to wrest control of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, early in their invasion, launched in February 2022.
But Ukrainian forces pushed back Moscow’s army, which has been routinely shelling the city since.
Separately, the governor of the southern Kherson region said Russian forces had killed a total of five residents of his region over the course of the day before.
Six more people were wounded across the region, which the Kremlin claims is part of Russia, the governor, Oleksandr Prokudin, said on social media.
Both Russian and Ukraine have stepped up strikes on each others’ cities and critical infrastructure.
Kyiv has urged its allies to help bolster its air defence systems to ward off Russian attacks.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)
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